Mary, daughter of King Stephen, became abbess here (of Romsey) about 1160, and it was her uncle, Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester (1129-71), who was probably the builder of the greater part of Romsey Abbey as it now stands. Abbess Mary in 1160 left her monastery to become the wife of Matthew, son of Theodoric, Earl of Flanders. By him she had two daughters, but was afterwards separated from her husband. According to Matthew Paris this separation was brought about by the censure of the Church, and she returned in penitence to Romsey.
The Victorian writer of the County History was being a tad on the coy side in his description of Mary’s departure from Romsey. She was abducted by her distant cousin Matthew who was also a cousin of Henry II. She’d been a nun for over a decade, and had been the abbess since 1155, when her brother, William of Boulogne, died. He’d been married to Isabella de Warenne who ended up married to Henry II’s illegitimate half-brother Hamlyn. Unfortunately Mary’s other brother Eustace was also dead. This meant that the abbess became a very wealthy countess and it’s a well-known fact that being an unmarried countess makes you fair game even, apparently, if you’re living a cloistered life at the time.
Pope Alexander III was not amused. Letters were exchanged. Meanwhile Matthew became the Count of Boulogne and two daughters, Ida and Mathilde, were born from the union. Mary was eventually able to return to the monastic life when the Catholic Church annulled her marriage.
Once again history does not provide us with the complete truth of proceedings let alone Mary’s view of events and it certainly doesn’t provide us with a picture of the unfortunate abbess for which reason this post has an image of Mary’s father King Stephen. Mary’s mother was Mathilde of Boulogne from when the title that caused all the problems originated.